Claude Giroux has long acknowledged the respect he has for one of his contemporaries, Pavel Datsyuk, but when Giroux was a hockey-mad kid growing up in Ontario, it was another Detroit Red Wings legend who fascinated him more.
Once in a while, Giroux still loads up his laptop, finds an online NHL database, and scrolls through Steve Yzerman's career statistics, marveling at Yzerman's 155 points in 1988-89 and his 137 points in 1992-93. But Giroux has picked up on a revealing pattern, too. In each of those two eye-popping seasons for Yzerman, the Red Wings lost in the playoffs' first round, and in two of the three years that Detroit won the Stanley Cup while he was there, he averaged less than a point a game.
"I thought, 'Those are crazy stats,' " Giroux said Wednesday morning at the Flyers' headquarters in Voorhees, before the team opened training camp. "But then you look, and he never really won. They were never really successful as a team. But then you have other guys come in, [Sergei] Fedorov and all those guys, and it becomes more of a solid team. Maybe his points weren't higher, but I'll bet if you ask him, he doesn't care.
"Points are good because that means you're helping the team, but, at the same time, if you have [fewer] points and the team's winning, anybody's going to take that."
Giroux would, too. At this stage of his career and life — 30 years old, newly married, about to begin his 11th season with the Flyers — he would relish a deep postseason run or two even if a downturn in his own production accompanied it. The Flyers haven't won a playoff series since 2012, and they haven't won one at all since Giroux, Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds became the team's primary sources of scoring and leadership.
If that trend changes, either this season or beyond, it will be unlikely that that trio carried the Flyers further than they've gone in more than a half-decade. It will be because the younger, still-maturing players on the roster — Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Nolan Patrick, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov — have developed so much that the club didn't have to rely as heavily on those three mainstays. In a perfect world for the Flyers, Giroux can get older, can fall a few spots in their scoring column, and they, and he, can get still better.
"I think that makes a team stronger, when a young player comes in and he's got a little bit more responsibility than the years before," Giroux said. "So roles might change, but not by a lot, and you've just got to know your role. Successful teams, they challenge themselves on those big roles. When you have two good power plays, you want to make sure that when you're on there, you're make the difference. If not, they're going to put the other one on. It's a little motivation, challenging, competitive. That's always good."
Already, Giroux is past the point at which coach Dave Hakstol can scribble his name on a lineup card every night as the Flyers' No. 1 center and go about figuring out who will fill the Flyers' other 11 forward spots. That's not to say that Giroux can't be a dynamic player, but it is to say that he needs more help than he once did. After that awful 2016-17 season, when Giroux had just 58 points in 82 games and the Flyers missed the playoffs, he rebounded to set career highs in goals (34) and points (102) last season. But the Penguins bounced the Flyers from the postseason in six games anyway, and the price he paid for that spike in productivity was a change from his natural position to one of less responsibility. Hakstol moved Giroux to left wing and elevated Couturier to the top line's center.
"We'll never know what would have happened if I had stayed at center, but I'm very happy with the season we had," Giroux said. "Having that chemistry with Coots that quick, I'm not going to lie, I was surprised it went that well."
The offseason acquisition of James van Riemsdyk, in theory, will lessen Giroux's responsibilities on offense even more. Giroux has always been a conscientious, well-rounded player, excellent on face-offs, a willing penalty-killer, and it is not a stretch to envision his career tracing a similar arc to Yzerman's, from franchise centerpiece in his prime to wise veteran as twilight nears.
"Mickey Mantle had that saying, 'It's unbelievable how much you don't know about the game you've been playing all your life,' and I really think that's true if you have an open mind with what you're doing every day," he said. "If you make a mistake, it can be good to make a mistake. It makes you stronger for the future." The challenge for the Flyers is to join their captain on that journey.